A Critical Exchange with Reese Erlich on Syria, ISIS & the Left

March 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

Reese Erlich is a foreign correspondent with GlobalPost and reports regularly for National Public Radio (NPR), the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC), and Radio Deutsche Welle. His reporting has earned him multiple awards over the years. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared September 14, 2010, “Reese Erlich Day” in honor of his investigative work. “Mr. Erlich,” the resolution read, “exhibits the finest qualities of…reporters willing to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

He is also a friend of mine. We met in the home of our mutual friend Stephen Kinzer. Kinzer wrote the Foreword to Erlich’s book Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba and when Erich was in Chicago in early 2009 to discuss the book, Kinzer hosted a gathering for him in his home in Oak Park. It was a fabulous evening, and Erlich and I stayed in touch. A few months later he was in Iran, reporting on the historic protests that convulsed the Islamic Republic following its June presidential election. He wrote some of the very smartest stuff about those dramatic events. Erlich is a dyed–in–the–wool New Leftist who cut his teeth at Ramparts, the iconic magazine of 1960s radicalism, but he took many of his fellow leftists to task for the utter myopia they displayed amidst the events in Iran that summer. His essay “Iran and Leftist Confusion” was bang-on and desperately-needed. He also provided a healthy corrective to the pervasive narcissistic blather about Iran’s Green movement being a Twitter revolution.

A couple years on, when his book Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire came out, I set up an event for Erlich at Chicago’s No Exit Cafe. And in 2013, when Erlich and Norman Solomon (his co-author on the 2003 book Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You) did a speaking tour to mark the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, I set up an them for them in Denver.

In Erlich’s latest book, Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect​, he criticizes me and my colleague Nader Hashemi for advocating humanitarian intervention to end the criminal starvation sieges in Syria. He reached out to me before the book went to print, asking me to read this section and send him feedback. We had sharp disagreements about Syria, but I appreciated his spirit of generosity and friendship. In this same spirit, I was happy to host him once again in Denver for a talk on his new book. But I was also keen to sit him down for a critical exchange about his book for the video series that our Center for Middle East Studies produces.

Our conversation reflects both my deep respect for Reese’s work and also my serious disagreements with him. It is a spirited and critical (in the best sense) exchange between two leftists with different perspectives on one of key issues of our time.

Let’s Talk About Genocide: The State of Israel Vs. William A. Schabas

February 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

William A. Schabas

William A. Schabas

Since Israel’s latest attack on the besieged Gaza Strip, last summer, I’ve been researching the issue of Israel’s genocide [1,2,3,4]. I quickly found out that I’m not the only one, and although the subject has been addressed by scholars, politicians, UN bodies, and Palestinian civil society since 1982, this attack has prompted an unprecedented amount of criticism and study.

The sudden popular resurgence of the term, especially coming from President Mahmoud Abbas, has already prompted many independent articles, rejecting not only the terminology, but mostly the users of the term. From Liberal Zionists calling those who charge genocide “the loony left” and “antisemitic”; to hard-core right-wingers like government- funded StandWithUs with the help of fox news, with the tried-and-true “what about Syria, Iran, Iraq” and anything else that isn’t the issue of discussion and furthers Islamophobia; to AIPAC with the ironic claim that naming the crime hinders peace, and quotations from none other than Benjamin Netanyahu that “we warned them” and after we bombed the hell out of them, we gave them “tons of humanitarian aid.” That said, I’ve yet to see an organised government initiative on the subject. Until now.

Never Again Unless We Did It

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Israelpolitik, the Neocons and the Long Shadow of the Iraq War—A Review of Muhammad Idrees Ahmad’s book ‘The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War’

January 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

This essay first appeared in The Drouth (‘The Thirst’), a quarterly magazine published in Glasgow (Issue 50, Winter 2014/2015). I wrote it in December 2014.

The Road to Iraq book coverThe Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War
By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
Edinburgh University Press

Reviewed by Danny Postel

I was reluctant to review this book. With all the dramatic developments in the Middle East today—the ISIS crisis, the siege of Kobanê, the deepening nightmare in Syria, the escalating repression in Egypt, the fate of Tunisia’s democratic transition, the sectarianization of regional conflicts driven by the Saudi-Iranian rivalry—delving back into the 2003 invasion of Iraq seemed rather less than urgent. It’s hard enough just to keep up with the events unfolding day-to-day in the region. Reading—let alone reviewing—a detailed study of the internal processes that led to the United States toppling Saddam Hussein over a decade ago seemed remote, if not indeed a distraction.

But I’m glad I set these reservations aside and took the assignment. This forcefully argued and meticulously researched (with no fewer than 1,152 footnotes, many of which are full-blown paragraphs) book turns out to be enormously relevant to the present moment, on at least three fronts:

  • ISIS emerged from the ashes of al Qaeda in Iraq, which formed in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Without the 2003 invasion, there would be no ISIS as we know it—and the region’s political landscape would look very different.
  • The US Senate report on CIA torture has brought back into focus the rogues gallery of the Bush-Cheney administration—the same cast of characters who engineered the 2003 Iraq invasion. This book shines a heat lamp on that dark chapter and many of its protagonists.
  • There is talk of a neoconservative comeback in Washington. This thoroughly discredited but zombie-like group are now angling for the ear of Hillary Clinton, who might be the next US president. Ahmad’s book provides a marvelously illuminating anatomy of the neocons, which has lessons that apply directly to this movement’s potentially ominous next chapter.

The central question Ahmad attempts to answer is: Why did the 2003 Iraq War happen? In one of the book’s most valuable sections, felicitously titled ‘Black Gold and Red Herrings’, he goes through several prevalent explanations/theories and takes them apart one by one: « Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Talk About Genocide: Palestine and United Nations Realpolitik

January 13, 2015 § Leave a comment

On the 7th of April 2004, then United Nations Secretary General to the Commission on Human Rights, Kofi Annan, launched his Action Plan to Prevent Genocide:

We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least 800,000 defenceless men, women and children who perished in Rwanda 10 years ago. Such crimes cannot be reversed. Such failures cannot be repaired. The dead cannot be brought back to life. So what can we do?

In my series of articles about Israel’s ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people, I tackle this assertion through different aspects of prevention mechanisms that have been put forth by the United Nations, such as The Convention of Prevention of Genocide, the UN Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide statements, and other reports and documents. In this article, I’d like to discuss Annan’s plan, which is an overarching document and a promise of the UN to endangered communities that asses the dangers as they happen, and to bring it to task about its inaction to prevent Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian People.

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Let’s Talk About Genocide: Inferring Israel’s Genocidal Intent

November 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Is this what genocide looks like?

When I first set out to prove that Israel is committing the crime of genocide against the Palestinian people, I focused mostly on its genocidal acts. While there’s consensus between pretty much anyone that bothered to examine the Convention of Prevention of Genocide [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16] on the fact that Israel is committing the first three out of five genocidal acts:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

A debate remains about Israel’s intent to bring about the Palestinian people’s “destruction in whole or in part”. The Russell Tribunal, in its latest “Extraordinary Session on Gaza” and the 2009 “Fact Finding Committee On Gaza” chaired by John Dugard, both illustrate a narrative of colonialist destruction of the social fabric and a partial wiping out of the indigenous population. Frustratingly enough, both stop short of ruling genocide. While the Russell Tribunal simply says “it would be for a criminal court to determine”, the Dugard report goes into much greater detail.

Palestine in Whole or in Part

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Let’s Talk About Genocide: The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Standard and Israel

September 7, 2014 § 1 Comment

Mourners fill the mosque during the funeral for 26 members of the Abu Jame’ family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Reports indicate that 15 of the 24 killed were children of Abu Jame’ family.

Mourners fill the mosque during the funeral for 26 members of the Abu Jame’ family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Reports indicate that 15 of the 24 killed were children of Abu Jame’ family. (Taken from 972 Magazine)

On the 24th of July 2014, when Israel had already massacred 697 Palestinians in Gaza, of whom at least 170 are children, Adama Dieng and Jennifer Welsh of the UN Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide published a statement, which I would characterize as aiding and abating genocide.

The Responsibility to Protect

While acknowledging the incomprehensible numbers of the dead, and the staggering destruction to civilian infrastructure to the besieged Gaza strip, which the UN itself has described as “uninhabitable” even before Israel’s latest onslaught, the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide seems to see fit to equate the meagre damage inflicted by the resistance of the victims of genocide, to that of the perpetrators of this genocide, as they execute massacres alongside a campaign of mass destruction.

The word Genocide is fast becoming yet another synonym for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people, alongside Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing. I’ve already began to scratch the surface of the applicability of the Crime of Genocide to Israel, by examining the definition provided in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9th 1948. My conclusion prompted me to create a call to action, calling for concerned citizens of the world to contact the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and demand an enquiry and publish its findings and recommendations as to the possibility that Israel is committing the Crime of Genocide.

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Anton Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Yet Another Example of the World-Class Music Available in Israel

July 19, 2012 § 4 Comments

Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, (translated from an nrg.co.il interview published in Hebrew by Creative Community for Peace) http://www.nrg.co.il/online/47/ART2/384/265.html

Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre seems to have a very formed opinion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Between the Palestinian-led organizations, the BDS National Committee and The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and my own little campaign on Facebook which continuously appealed to them among many others, it’s unfortunate that it never occurred to the band to try and contact the people who asked them not to play in Israel. I hate to write a post-performance letter [1,2,3,4,5], and some may ask what’s the point, but I truly believe that while it may be too late to get you to cancel, it’s it’s never too late to get you to understand. So one more time with feeling: A post-performance analysis and response to the statements of Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre [Hebrew].

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